The need to communicate and access the internet has become a human right in South Africa.
This is according to non-profit group, Media Monitoring Africa, which believes that the country’s laws should now be amended to reflect this importance, reports Fin24.
Testifying before the Competition Commission’s Data Services Market Inquiry on Wednesday (17 October) Media Monitoring Africa’s executive director, William Bird, said that failing to do so would effectively take the country back to apartheid.
He described access to the internet as a basic human right like water or shelter, which is enshrined in the Constitution. “You shouldn’t have to worry about data,” he said.
He added that internet access was inherently cheaper for wealthier people South Africa, while the majority of the population have to resort to disproportionately high rates for data to access the internet.
This is because the poor pay higher costs because they cannot afford to pay for data in bulk whereas those who were better off could do so in terms of data contracts or fixed ADSL and fibre lines, he said
Similar points were raised by civil rights group R2K during its presentation to the Data Services Market Inquiry.
R2K’s submission highlighted how the cost of communication in South Africa was undermining people’s basic rights to access and share information – their right to communicate.
“As always, it is the poorest of the poor who are hurt the most,” it said.
“R2K maintains that the high cost of communication in South Africa is directly linked to systemic failures of policy and implementation by government, and lack of regulation and competition in the telecommunications industry.”
The organisation added that South Africa has one of the most expensive data prices in the world – even when adjusted for cost of living
“To put this into perspective, India only charges R11 for 1GB, Nigeria charges R22, Ghana R71, Russia R24 and Vodacom in Tanzania charges R98 for 1GB but R149 in South Africa,” it said.
“South Africa has the second highest data contract prices compared to other BRICS-member countries (namely Brazil, China, India, Russia)”
“Even at R99, Telkom have not managed to exert price pressure on MTN and Vodacom. This cuts out almost half of South Africans who are unable to afford the high price points of these major players.”
To combat this, R2K recommended that the following changes be made:
- Wholesale and retail divisions of the mobile operators be structurally separated along the lines of the intervention that the Competition Commission made with respect to Telkom in 2013.
- ICASA and all regulatory bodies need to ensure that data costs are decreased to match the socio-economic needs of South Africans.
- Affordable data and airtime for all South Africans.
- Communications must be universal. Everyone has a right to communications that are available and affordable.
- All SMSes should be free as they cost the operators almost nothing to transmit.
- Everyone should get a free basic amount of airtime and data in the same way that we have free basic water and electricity.
- ICASA must regulate the cost of airtime and data to stop profiteering.
- Prepaid communication users should not cross-subsidise post-paid users.
- Data bundles should not expire if they are unused.
- Cell phone companies must improve the quality of service, including network outages, dropped calls, calls that don’t connect, and data coverage.
- The range of numbers that are free to call (like police and ambulance) should be increased to include our children’s schools and hospitals